Walt Disney World turns 50: 30 magical reasons to visit during the 18-months of celebrations

We choose our highlights of a visit to the Florida resort during the golden anniversary.

Damon Smith
Friday 01 October 2021 10:48

On October 1, Walt Disney World Resort marks exactly 50 years since Roy O Disney welcomed guests to the Magic Kingdom a place “where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn”.

His younger brother Walt did not live to see the grand opening of his “Florida Project” comprising (at that point) one theme park, two resort hotels and two golf courses.

Half a century later, ahead of travel restrictions to America lifting for fully vaccinated UK guests, you don’t need to wish upon a star to find 30 reasons to savour the 18-month long anniversary celebrations.

The Disney Enchantment night-time spectacular at Magic Kingdom Park (PA/Walt Disney World/Kent Phillips)

1) To mark the 50th anniversary, the four theme parks boast shimmering iridescent decor. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto and Chip ‘n’ Dale will be sporting custom-made new looks for the occasion, which include multi-toned brocade and an embroidered Cinderella Castle backed by fireworks.

2) The Disney Enchantment night-time spectacular, which debuts on October 1 in Magic Kingdom Park, combines fireworks and projection mapping technology along Main Street with a stirring soundtrack including the original song “You Are The Magic”.

3) Epcot’s World Showcase Lagoon hosts Harmonious, a 21-minute feast for the senses celebrating the power of song, brought to life on floating giant screens with moving water fountains, pyrotechnics and lasers.

4) Disney KiteTails flies high several times a day at the Discovery River Theater in Animal Kingdom with an intricately choreographed display of three-dimensional kites and windcatchers, some stretching 30 feet long.

5) Selfies in front of the Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom Park shine brighter thanks to a timely makeover of the majestic façade in blush pink, navy blue and glittering gold including a 50th anniversary crest.

6)  Some 36 gilded sculptures of characters – the so-called Fab 50 – have been installed in parks to add a golden lustre to the anniversary celebrations. Chip ’n’ Dale look especially excited in front of the Cinderella Castle.

7) Four park landmarks – Cinderella Castle, Hollywood Tower Hotel, Spaceship Earth and the Tree Of Life – transform into glowing Beacons of Magic for the anniversary courtesy of new lighting effects.

8) Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a replica of the magnifique 4D trackless dark ride at Disneyland Paris, opens at Epcot’s expanded France pavilion. Take a big whiff of the oranges in the pantry.

9) To complement Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, France pavilion also unveils La Crêperie de Paris with a menu of sweet and savoury crêpes conceived by celebrity chef Jérôme Bocuse. Bon appétit!

10) Parks are filled with a rousing anniversary earworm, “The Magic Is Calling”, written by Alana Da Fonseca and Bobby Studley. “Imagine a world for you and me/Where all that we have to do is believe…”

11) More than 150 mouth-watering food items are added to menus for the anniversary including a Vintage Minnie’s Brown Betty Profiterole available at Grand Floridian Café and a Glimmer And Shimmer Pineapple Mousse at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

12) Out-of-this-world themed restaurant Space 220 serves modern American cuisine on the Centauri Space Station with panoramic views of Earth. See if you can spot two astronauts wielding lightsabres in deep space.

13) Soar to infinity and beyond in state-of-the-art Disney Skyliner gondolas, which feature new artwork for the anniversary and conveniently link Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

14) Secure an evening dinner reservation at California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort for panoramic views of the Disney Enchantment fireworks. A 50th anniversary tasting menu includes a hefty 35oz beef ribeye tomahawk steak for two.

15) Travelling between parks is a breeze using the monorail service, which begins operations 30 minutes before the parks open. A golden train has been added plus coloured night-time lighting.

16) Ask a PhotoPass photographer for a digitally enhanced Magic shot during the anniversary celebrations to add Remy the mouse, exploding confetti or colourful balloons to your snapshot.

17) All aboard Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railroad, which opened in March 2020 less than three weeks before the first UK lockdown. The first Disney park ride starring Mickey Mouse and friends immerses visitors in a colour-saturated animated world using trackless vehicles and ingenious video projection.

18) Turn the pages of history at The Hall Of Presidents, which unveiled an animatronic Joe Biden in August reciting the presidential oath of office.

19) Jungle Cruise one of the park’s original rides, recently removed outdated and potentially offensive depictions of indigenous peoples. Groanworthy puns in the commentary are – thankfully – untouched. Feel free to take pictures of the bathing elephants, they all have their trunks on.

20) Shopaholics will be spoilt for choice with swathes of new merchandise including the aptly named EARidescent Collection and a must-have soap dispenser that deposits Mickey-shaped suds to ensure hands are sanitised.

21) Cirque du Soleil defies gravity from November 18 with Drawn To Life, reinterpreting classic Disney films with death-defying acrobatic brio on a stage resembling a giant animation table.

22) Also from November 18, Disney Very Merriest After Hours spreads festive cheer on selected nights including a special parade and fireworks hosted by mouse-with-the-mostest Minnie.

23) Feel the Force from March 1, 2022 when Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser takes immersive storytelling to a galaxy far, far away with an interactive two-night adventure including lightsabre training. The experience includes a visit to Rise Of The Resistance in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the best attraction in any Disney park. Don’t be afraid to playfully banter with First Order officers.

24) Scoff and quaff to excess at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival in July 2022, garnished with live musical entertainment.

25) The first reverse launch on a Disney rollercoaster propels riders back to the future on Guardians Of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, a Marvel-themed spinning thrill ride currently under construction in Epcot

26) Also taking shape at Epcot, Moana: Journey Of Water is a lush walk-through environment for families to interact with ‘living’ water features and learn about sustainability.

27) The show-stopping Tron Lightcycle Run, a recreation of the eye-popping rollercoaster at Shanghai Disney Resort, is in the final stages of construction in Magic Kingdom and should rev into top gear in 2022. Expect white knuckles.

28) The Roundup Rodeo BBQ restaurant prepares to sizzle in Toy Story Land in 2022, surrounding rootin’ tootin’ families with figures from the Pixar film series.

29) The next generation of MagicBand hands-free technology debuts in 2022, boasting colour-changing lights, vibrations and gesture recognition to allow guests to interact with rides, attractions and the Fab 50 golden sculptures.

30) A customised version of the Alexa voice assistant technology christened “Hey Disney!” rolls out to Disney resort hotel rooms in 2022, providing top tips, weather forecasts and other useful information.

For more information about the anniversary celebrations visit disneyworld.co.uk/50th-anniversary/

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